By Daniel Friedman
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As training camp nears, the anticipation of the upcoming season rises to a fever pitch. Consequently, so does the number of questions surrounding the Islanders.
A while back, I sat down with Chris Peters, who writes for Eye on Hockey at CBSSports.com, to ask him a few. Here’s how that conversation went down:
The Islanders made a big move getting Jaroslav Halak. What did you think of the move, and what effect do you think it might have on the Islanders’ outlook for next season?
Chris Peters: “I thought it was a necessary move and a really savvy one by Garth Snow. The team gave up a little to vastly improve their goaltending situation. Any team that gives up an average of three goals a game or more is going to be in a world of hurt against the rest of the league. I don’t think Halak is going to be a savior, but he is such a huge upgrade over a trio that posted a sub-.900 save percentage. That should put the Islanders in a better position to be competitive, but Halak isn’t going to be able to do it on his own.”
The Islanders made a lot of noise during the lockout-shortened season by taking Pittsburgh to six games in the playoffs, then followed that up with a dud. Which do you think was the fluke — the playoff year or this past season?
Peters: “Hate to say it, but I think it was the playoff. I look at the Islanders’ roster (last) season and I see the glaring holes, particularly at goaltending. The defense was OK and there wasn’t enough scoring depth to compete with the big boys. The goaltending part has been addressed, but there’s a lot of work left to do.”
What is this team missing in order to get back into the playoffs?
Peters: “Addressing the goaltending was the key here. I thought it was bold of Garth Snow to go and get Halak. When you have league-worst goaltending, it doesn’t matter who is in front of them. So getting Halak via trade and then signing him to a reasonable extension was the best move to be made. I did think the Isles could afford to get deeper at forward and they absolutely did with (Mikhail) Grabovski and (Nikolai) Kulemin. Those guys are going to help, even if they’re not going to be game-breakers. I still think the Islanders could use some effective veteran help on the blue line, but at this point, that will have to come via trade.”
Jack Capuano has received mixed reviews. What’s your take on the Isles’ head coach, and do you think he should’ve been fired? How much longer do you give him in New York?
Peters: “Jack Capuano is an interesting coach in that I think it’s very hard to judge him at this point. What could he do with better goaltending? What could he do with a deeper lineup? Those I think are some of the questions that we’ll find out some answers to this season. Given the moves made and the money spent this offseason. However, I think Capuano will be on a short leash. If things go south early in the season, I don’t think he’ll last in the job. I believe he was deserving of a chance to work with this roster as constructed. Now he just has to get all the pieces working together quickly.”
Garth Snow’s had some ups and downs over his tenure. What’s your overall impression of him?
Peters: “I have really mixed opinions on Snow, but I believe he is a guy that has learned from some of his mistakes and has been extremely aggressive. I think his work last season, however, the Moulson trade for Vanek and then not getting enough value back for Vanek later, is a massive stumble. I thought that was too aggressive, dealing Moulson. The Islanders aren’t a destination team and Vanek knew he was going to be the best free agent forward available. Believing they could re-sign him was a costly misstep. That said, I look at his work at the draft this year, his offseason moves and I think to myself that he’s moving in the right direction. I feel like there’s a little bit more vision for this organization than there had been previously and if Snow can stick to the plan, he’ll get things back on track. If he doesn’t, well …”
Are there any prospects or players within the Islanders’ organization that you would deem expendable?
Peters: “I think any player can be deemed expendable if it brings you the right return. There are obviously going to be guys that are more valuable than others, but prospects by and large are still uncertain. You don’t know how they’ll pan out as much as scouts try to figure otherwise. If the Islanders were ever presented with a deal that gives them a legitimate NHLer that is going to help the team over multiple years, that’s a deal worth doing. There’s little doubt the Islanders have built up a pretty solid system, particularly on defense. So with there being more of a surplus at that position, you might look at defensemen being more expendable than digging into the forward group. Additionally, defensemen are less predictable in their NHL projections.”
What’s your take on Josh Bailey?
Peters: “I have to admit, Bailey is a player I haven’t followed real closely over the years, but to me, I think he is what he is. At his age, there is certainly ways he can improve and develop, perhaps more than older guys. That said, at 24, I think what you see is what you get. He’s an everyday NHLer, but I don’t see him turning into a highly productive guy anytime soon. It’s tough for him because he’s a top-10 pick and has been around for six years. I just don’t see a magic turnaround.”
The Islanders are moving into a new arena in 2015. What kind of effect do you think this will have on the organization?
Peters: “I do believe it’s going to help them when it comes to bringing in free agents and how they are perceived as a destination for players. That’s kind of where it ends though. It’s probably going to be the same group running things. As I noted earlier, I think Garth Snow is an interesting GM. I don’t know that a new building is going to change the way they do business because the address changed. Optically, I think it’s better for the organization, as painful as it must be to see them leave Long Island. But how much is that perception of the franchise tied to that building right now? I think it’s quite a bit. Having a pleasant working environment matters.”
Last question: Can you see John Tavares requesting a trade anytime soon?
Peters: “I think there’s always risk in a struggling franchise that the big star wants out. That said, I don’t think the Islanders are moribund. There’s at least a future here. I look at guys like Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson and the new draft picks and I see a lot of potential. Those are the types of guys who are going to have to surround Tavares to give the Islanders a fighting chance within a few years. If the young guys on the blue line develop, there’s improvement there. The goaltending situation is different. All athletes want to win, and I think the Islanders can eventually. They’re not close to a title right now, but to me, I don’t feel really strongly that Tavares will be asking to leave whenever he gets the chance. If he’s the centerpiece to build around, he may feel the responsibility to help bring the franchise back. That can be a powerful motivator for someone as competitive as Tavares.”
You can (and in fact should) follow Chris Peters on Twitter @chrismpeters. If you’re feeling generous, you can also follow me @DFriedmanOnNYI. If you have to pick one, follow Chris. He’s much cooler.
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